As a young gay guy, I had a dream: to find the perfect man; a strong, beautiful man who by his very presence would somehow eradicate the last eight years of my life - eight friendless years which had been defined by systematic bullying. We’d settle down together. I’d feel protected. The world would suddenly seem a much safer place. I even had my eye on a prospective candidate: a hulking, blue eyed gentle giant at my school, with sexy, hairy forearms and, sadly, a bimbo girlfriend with buck-teeth like the barbed wire fence surrounding Alcatraz.
My dream – like that of so many gay men – was based on what I knew. The only relationship template I had: my parents. It was the archetypal monogamous relationship. I still recall the whispers of disapproval and horror as my mother pointed at a friend’s mother: “She had an affair!” I didn’t know what an “affair” was, but it sounded deliciously exotic.
My parents’ marriage was not perfect. The ferocity of some of their arguments rivaled that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It could be an unstable home. But, as my mother kept telling me, the fights didn’t matter, because they stayed together: “Divorce? No good Catholic divorces, dear. I’m with him until I die.”
As I began to have relationships, I adopted my parents’ fiery, overly-romantic attitude to marriage. To let someone else into a relationship meant only one thing – curtains. Sure, I may have been having more threesomes than hot dinners, but those never included anyone I was dating. If someone so much as looked at my man in the wrong way, I’d erupt. And it didn’t matter how much bigger they were than me. “Get out of here right now,” I shrieked at one partner after I caught some blonde tart ogling him in my local bar. Livid, I wrestled him to the ground. He was a boxer. It didn’t end well.
As a red-headed Scorpio my capacity for jealousy seemed to be infinite – as did my readiness to judge anyone who dared mention the words “open relationship”; indeed, the look of disdain I dispensed to gay male couples who had chosen such a path could not have been greater if they had admitted to a ménage à trios with George W Bush and Sarah Palin. These people were simply greedy. How dare they whip off their pants for every man in sight when I couldn’t seem to keep even one boyfriend for longer than a few months?
Years passed. Apart from the odd relationship I remained single, dismissing the prospect of an open relationship as sheer lunacy. And yet increasingly a niggling voice has appeared in my head. Gay liberation was about breaking out of the bounds of monogamy. Weren’t gay people free to create their own rules for relationships – fresh, exciting ways of loving and supporting one another? Surely it’s unrealistic to think that just one person is going to fulfill all of our needs - sexual, emotional and intellectual.
These feelings grew as I befriended couples who were enjoying healthy open relationships. I know a male and female couple who don’t define themselves as either gay or straight; indeed, the only way they do seem to define themselves is by the swathes of genitalia – male and female – that they attach themselves to in bar toilets or their boudoir. Talk about a revolving door, and yet they have one of the strongest partnerships I know.
Several years ago I visited a dear friend in Spain. He has been in a partnership for more than 30 years, but after 15 years together the pair decided to open up their relationship. My friend moved into a flat above that of his new lover. My friend’s long-term partner came over to Spain for his birthday, and all of us celebrated the occasion in the same flat. There was no tension. It was one of the most joyous occasions that I can remember. Here were gay men living out the values of gay liberation, and it worked – beautifully.
But I came away from that evening feeling a little sad. A year previously I’d ended the longest relationship I’d ever had, turning away from a sensitive, intelligent man because sexually things were not working out. He knew this; moreover, he had given me the option of opening up the relationship, and I had, once again, rejected the option. As I looked at my friends in Spain - who showed no hint of envy, just friendship, love, and trust – part of me regretted my decision, for I had – and still have not – found a better companion. Is it too late for a tempestuous, romantic to try another way of having a relationship? Given my history, it would certainly be a risk, but perhaps one worth taking.
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